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Full text of "A Journey on Horseback from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, in 1799"

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A Journey on HorsebacJc in 1799. 189 



A JOUENBY OIT HOESEBACK FEOM NEW BEUNS- 
WICK, NEW JEESEY, TO LYCOMING COUNTY, 
PENNSYLVANIA, IN 1799. 

CONTRIBUTED BY HON. THOMAS HILL, PORTLAND, MAINE. 

[Abijah Hill, of Warwickshire, England, b. May 1, 1690, d. Jan. 26, 
1783, had one daughter and five sons, of whom the youngest, Samuel, 
was b. Aug. 3, 1741, d. Jan. 1804. He had four sons, of whom the 
oldest, Thomas, came to America prior to reaching his majority and 
settled in New Brunswick, N. J. Here he died April 8, 1828. He was 
a man of great stature and muscular strength, of sound sense, and in- 
corruptible integrity, and for many years filled honorably the offices of 
Justice of the Peace, and Judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas 
in Middlesex County, N. J. The following extracts from his diary of a 
horseback journey from New Brunswick, N. J., to Lycoming County, 
Penna., are of interest, as they contain a certain amount of historic in- 
terest concerning the roads, manners, and customs of the inhabitants, 
crops, etc., at the close of the last century.] 

New Brunswick N. J. June 29, 1799. — Cash thirty dollars, 
three silk neck hdkfs, three pocket hdkfs, two pair stock- 
ings, three nankeen waistcoats, two coatees, three pair of 
trousers, a great coat, one pair of shoes, one hat of chip, a 
watch, a pair of saddle bags, a brace of razors, a knife with 
three blades ; and a good horse, a bright bay, with a poor 
bridle and a good saddle, on which is mounted 

your humb serv't 

T. HILL. 

P.S. — Tobacco in segars, 100 ; also a box full of opium, 
rhubarb, aloes, and magnesia. 

July 1. — [from New Brunswick] to Reading town meet- 
ing, 20 miles; to Exton's, 14 miles more, to lodge. A 
pleasant country, piaritan] river brimfull, grass good, 
chiefly mowed ; crops on the west side, 20 bushels, on the 
east side 12 bushels. But the pleasant prospects will not 
cure my blisters which are as big as a dove's Qgg. Oh dear ! 



190 A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 

the hot weather, and rough fustian trousers, and a hard 
trotting horse incline me to pray ! 

July 2. — Put on linen trousers. To the Hickory tavern, 
7 miles, along the ridge of a mountain ; — hard pebbly road, 
few settlements, and poor land. The linen trousers do bet- 
ter than cotton. To Phillipsburg and East Town [Easton], 
12 miles, through several small villages, on fine rapid trout 
streams, with mills. Limestone land, very indifferent; lime 
not used as a manure ; average of produce 12 bushels, 
scarcely. Ked clover and pretty good lots, wherever there 
are mills. On such lots, 25 bushels ; hay, 1 J tons ; apple 
trees look well. Abutment and piers for a bridge from 
Phillipsburgh ; two piers only ; span 180 ft. The Lehigh 
falls in, just below; high banks, stony lands ; river not rapid 
enough to be romantic, nor wide and full enough to be ma- 
jestic ; much disappointed. Pretty good houses of lime- 
stone. Stone lime delivered at one shilling per bushel. A 
many stores. Inhabitants chiefly German. 130 houses or 
more. Four or five tanners. Bark stones drove by water. 
A few miles off, one on the coffee mill principle, answers 
well. Seven years ago I could find no clover sown, except 
near cities ; now, wherever you find a mill, or a store, you 
see lots [fields] of clover; a plain proof of superior infor- 
mation in any class of men over farmers. 

A most beautiful romantic clump of houses, on a brook, 
west side of the town, with a delightful tumbling dam. 
When I turn hermit, here will I live. To Stierk's tavern 
18 mile, yellow loam with limestone bottom, chiefly, till last 
two or four miles, slates very good. Two houses covered 
with them by Stierk's father. He's an intelligent German, 
a rare thing. Very unlike the Yankees, in general they can 
give me no information at all. The Yankees on the con- 
trary, in York State, used to tell me not only their own 
business, but every one of their neighbor's ! 

July 3. — To Harry Hoes 9 miles, to breakfast, generally 
over a poorish land, a yellow shelly loam; the bottom 
chiefly a whitish, spar-looking stone, something like plaster 
in appearance, but very hard. All Germans; — the most 



A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 191 

early rising, hard working people I ever saw ; they seem to 
enjoy not more happiness or knowledge, than some bell- 
flowers, who sleep at night, wake early, to bed late, perpet- 
uate their species, and die. They cannot tell you the dis- 
tance, or route to the next village. How different from the 
new Englishmen who, of all others, abound in local infor- 
mation in a superior degree. The women, all at work in 
the fields, seem very active, but are masculine in the ex- 
treme; their countenances seem to express much jealous 
suspicion. Their dress, — one petticoat striped blue linsy, 
a man's hat, and a shift, some of them with wristbands. 
Twelve miles from Harry Hoes to Livy's, arrive at | past 10 
o'clock. The mountain is very steep ; about a mile and a 
J up and a mile down again ; but in appearance, or height, 
from the foot, it falls far short of the Catskill Mountains. 
The stones seem a very hard kind indeed, a little gritty, 
with Motherstones and the white stones above mentioned, 
which I suppose Granite, mixed in small quantity ; about a 
mile of this side, say west, a perfect Red Shell. 

Crops, the 21 miles I have come, not more than 10 or 12 
bushels. I have not yet seen any equal to the Raritan [val- 
ley]; and no trees deserving the name of timber; small 
chestnuts and oaks all the way from Exton's. I have much 
trouble with my horse, he stumbles so much, I dare not 
ride him down hill, and up hill I walk to save him. 

This country has been settled with Germans about fifty 
years, I hope to be soon through them. My breakfast was 
this morning two cups of coffee without sugar, and 3 eggs ; 
bread baked hard, and crust wet. What a pity I cannot 
draw, if I could I would describe a beautiful wild deep red 
flower, on a stem 18 inches long, flower IJ inches long, 
bell-shape. [Lilium Philadelphium] 

A new and curious species of Laurel [Rhododendron or 
Kalmia] a long leaf like Magnolia, 15 ft high ; the flowers 
from their having a kind of natural bird lime upon the out- 
side of them, are hung up, Livy tells me, for fly traps; — I 
suppose on Sundays only, from the dirt. In the brook 
plenty of trout. A lizard makes a noise like the constant 
Vol. XIV. — 13 



192 A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 

rapping of a small stick upon a board. Leiby (for so he 
spells Ms name) says tie often sees them. I doubt. Salad 
with milk, oil, vinegar, bonny clabber and bread; good 
God ! how can they work so hard on such food ! A fine 
lesson ; I was determined to eat as they did, but was forced 
to take a piece of dried venison. They have a fine black 
eyed girl, 2J years old, but I suppose by ten, she will lose 
all her beauty and look like one of Shakespears witches. 
I notice their shifts being made exactly like shirts, except 
the collar, — they button with one button at the top. Can 
it be possible ! Am I in America ! where wages are six or 
seven shillings per day ! Ifo wonder they acquire wealth. 
No schools, no itch for learning. "Were they dressed alike, 
I defy any man to tell boys and girls of 10 or 12 apart. 
When grown up their forms differ, but their masculine 
features nearly the same. What will not education do ! 
To see and observe these people is worth riding a hard trot- 
ting horse 90 or 100 miles. I am 12 miles from that part 
of the Lehigh which produces such excellent coal ; — 6d per 
bushel to Philadelphia, by water.' 

My present landlord has a considerable store, a small 
farm, &c., — wages J a dollar per day. Set off, at 3J o'clock 
for Snyder's; went over a long high mountain called 
Somer's Ridge, at the foot of which you cross the Little 
Schuylkill. The Somer's Ridge is a miserable road, a sharp 
sand, upon a sandstone, too hard to be called free. The 
next mountain, called the Second Blue Mountain is still 
worse ; I wonder how it is possible to get loaded wagons 
over such miserable rough stony roads. I then crossed the 
Tuscarora Mountain, which contained a many rocks of that 
kind of motherstone used in mills. The timber that covers 
these lands, if so it be called, consists of short, knotty pitch 
pine, chestnut and chestnut oak. At the bottom of this 

^ I remember that about 25 years later than this, my father procured 
a lump of Lehigh coal about as large as his two fists, and tried it on 
his wood fire in an open Franklin stove. After two days he concluded 
that if the world should take fire the Lehigh coal mines would be the 
safest retreat, the last place to burn. 



A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 193 

mountain I come to a house, kept by Snyder as a tavern. 
I had been told of a fine barn, and meadows, though a mid- 
dling house; five miles from the Schuylkill. How disap- 
pointed was I in finding a large family in a small old log 
house as black as a smoke house and more dirty than a 
hogpen. I entered, look at a thousand holes thro' the roof, 
see that they have the itch badly, drink a small glass of 
whiskey, pay them 6d instead of 3d, and set off for Trushes, 
3 miles, and there find a stable without hay or straw. A 
poor house and dirty bedfellow, — f dollar. 15 miles from 
Leibys. A foolish democrat with strange notions, all for 
want of candid information. 

July 4. 15 miles to Fred. Lavinburgh's to breakfast, 
over mountains composed of nearly the same materials; 
more motherstone, at 11 miles come down the first road 
worth observing over these mountains, N". E. side. You 
observe the trees in the under valley as plain as plums in a 
pudding under your nose. Over the valley and next hill 
plains of f mile broad, of very good pine and oak, fit for 
spars of any kind ; and the land has not many stones ; and 
would no doubt be worth clearing. A brook runs through 
east and west, but the dumb fools know not where it empties. 
However, good eggs and bacon, bad coffee and a good 
stomach, make up for wanted information, in some respects. 
To Roaring Creek 9 miles. First over a mountain called 
the Little Mountain, over which is the best road of any 
mountain I had yet crossed ; it took me one hour, exact, to 
cross it; after that pretty good roads to this place. I have 
through the want of information gone five miles out of the 
way. However, my landlord says the better road will make 
up for it. He is well informed, descended from Irish 
parents; not party spirited; has 3 seeming industrious 
'girls; chatty; use thee and thou ; majestic sounds after the 
yaw, yaw ! Though ordinary persons, they are vastly su- 
perior to the Germans in expressive phizes. Can this be all 
education, or not? They live pretty well, ham, eggs, let- 
tuce, plain; much better than the German warm salads. 
Have come over some red shell land ; very poor ; will never 



194 A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 

be settled until the vine is cultivated. Six qts oats, pint 
cider royal, dinner, half a dollar, at Penrose's tavern on 
Roaring Creek, which I cross and then — 

Started at 2 o'clock, and although I kept on a steady jog 
trot, I did not reach Sunbury until nine at night. Now 4 
miles an hour would have been 28 miles although I was told 
it was but 20. I am sure, having but one hill to cross, and 
the rest a road not very stony, I could not have come a less 
distance, which with the 24 miles before dinner, makes the dis- 
tance travelled, too far ; it being 52 miles. An hour or two's 
ride, and I came to the Roaring Creek where it empties, into 
the Susquehannah. In riding over, nothing have I seen so 
naturally picturesque ; an almost natural-bridge, formed by 
the rocks, through which you see the falls of a milldam, with 
a bridge over to the mill. Had man planted a neat cot above 
in the bushes, it would make a fine picture for a painter to 
copy. I now travel along the, or rather under the banks of 
a very fine river, three times the breadth of Brunswick 
river, to Sunsbury. The slow majestic crystal moving 
stream, with monstrous mountains and banks on each side, 
and a level road on a flat not more than a hundred or two 
yards wide, covered in general by lofty sugar maples and 

beech, made me conclude at once that Matilda and J 

would be in raptures to have an opportunity of walking on 
these banks, calculated to please lovers, not farmers. Just 
as these thoughts were turning over, I saw the most beauti- 
ful serpent moving across the road. I stopt short to view 
this horrid fellow, for by the rattle of his tail I discovered 
him to be a rattlesnake. I have seen many a one in a box, 
but their colors were nothing, compared with this. I in- 
stantly dismounted and picked up a stick of four feet long. 
He prepared for an engagement by raising his sides, flatting 
his head, and shaking his tail. His colors now heightened 
surprisingly. By three or four strokes with a thick stick I 
killed him. "What a prize ! I out with my knife to cut his 
head and tail (of seven rattles) oiF, and thought of putting 
them into my pocket carefully packed. I would not at that 
moment [have] sold them for a dollar. I pressed on his 



A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 195 

neck my stick and begun to separate his head from — when 
he opened a monstrous mouth and rolled his sides toward 
my legs. I was startled and in mad frenzy, at a few strokes 
laid on unmercifully, destroyed my prize entirely; for I had 
mashed his head and shattered his tail to shivers. Seven 
rattles, 4| feet, as thick as my wrist, fangs a large half inch, 
black and yellow. 

Sunbury is pleasantly situated on a fine flat, half a mile 
broad, on the east side of the river just below the junction 
of the two rivers. What a pity, several rapids and falls, 
below, should prevent its being as useful as 'tis pretty. Lay 
here all night, breakfasted next morning. Being the fourth 
of July, a fine frolic, all a little bousy. Divided into two 
parties, very violent. A curious dispute, in which Bob 
Grey charged Dr Watson and Jackson with instilling Dem- 
ocratic principles into a negro, because they otfered the 
negro money for behaving well. 

Wi July, to Northumberland about two miles above Sun- 
bury on the opposite shore, situated on nearly the point be- 
tween the two rivers. Put my horse up and went to see 
Priestley. He looks exceeding well, lives in a good house, 
with a garden leading to the E. Branch of the S. [Susque- 
hanna] River, with a fine island in the middle. 

Though I half promised to dine with Dr. P[riestly]., 
meeting with a man going to Millstown, for the sake of 
company ride with him, twelve miles up the W[est] Branch 
to Millstown. Flats pretty good, but not above half a mile 
wide. The rest part of the way over, or rather between 
mountains, on the Genesee road, to Murray creek. Mid- 
dling land by places; limestone sufficient all the way; and 
the best twenty eight miles of roads, I have ever seen to- 
gether in America. To Mr. Robb's to lodge; 30 miles from 
Northumberland and 16 from J. Hills, 

Qth July. Mrs Robb was so good as to go across the wil- 
derness with me to Mr Hills. After crossing the Alleghany 
mountains, the bottom lands became good, covered with im- 
mense white pines, sugar maple, and beech and birch. 
John Hills lands, one thousand acres, — six hundred bottom, 



196 A Journey on Horseback in 1799. 

and four mountain. The bottoms up this creek are rather 
too sandy. A new county road is laid out, and will be a 
very good one, being pretty level, and free from stones in 
comparison ; and will, from its goodness and short distance, 
become the Genesee Road. In fact there is a kind of road 
[already] that a many people travel over for that country. 
Some days back a very high wind blew down a great many 
trees, which has made it very difficult travelling indeed. 

John Hill's situated on the south side of Loyalsock, 11 
miles below the Forks. Flats above him surrounded in ap- 
pearance by mountains, half a mile high. My land on the 
north side, next Huckels. John Warren is settled at the 
forks, middle branch of the Loyalsock. 

Was I disposed to hunt I believe I could shoot a deer any 
day, but the dread of being bit by a rattlesnake prevents my 
attempting it. Not a day has passed without the dogs being 
after one, in full cry, near us. I wonder the dogs do not 
drive them all off. A man who was lost in the woods saw 
a great many elk the morning after he was lost. A heavy 
rain and wind was the cause of his losing his way. Between 
town and Elk creek is the only road that wants opening 
to complete an open road between Muncyand the Genesee; 
and this new route will be eighty miles nearer than the old 
route; which must enhance the value of the lands thro' this 
settlement. The greatest objection I can see against this 
settlement is, there never will be settlers sufficient to sup- 
port a schoolmaster under any reasonable proportion to 
each. For six miles from this spot, that is three each way, 
there cannot well be more than seven farmers, a miller, and 
blacksmith, say nine. A 10£ per year would do, — but it 
will be a little age before this number can be procured ; and 
even then this distance from market will make this propor- 
tion a high tax. Ministers they must always dispense with ; 
which is, in my opinion, no objection. 

Elk Creek branches off from the Loyalsock 2 miles above 
J. Hills and 29 from the Susquehannah. Went to see Jno. 
Warren. 150 acres, 25 acres of land clear. 10 in good 
meadow. Timothy — 2 ton ; 3 acre, corn — iO bushels ; good 



A Journey on Horseback in 1799, 197 

wheat & rye, 7 acre ; 10 oxen, 4 cows and a bull, 50 bushels 
of old grain, two horses, plenty of meat and content in a 
comfortable log house. Pretty good flats, all the way up, 
but too narrow, and rather sandy. 

Killed a rattlesnake, black and white, Friday ; Saturday, 
another, black and white. I am told one color is the male 
and the other the female. The one I killed near Roaring 
Creek, from the beautiful yellow, white & black, must have 
been a male. Ha, ha, ha ! beautiful because a male ! I am 
in great pain from burnt legs by the sun while making a 
fish weir and dam. 

Sunday the — of July. — ^Left Loyalsock on my way home 
to Brunswick. To J. Websters 12 miles to tea. Part of 
the road lay over a branch of the Alleghany Mountain, four 
and a half miles across. Much credit is due to John Hill 
as the engineer in forming this road, for by taking proper 
advantages of the ridge he has rendered the road, not to say 
very steep in any one part, and yet managed it so that few 
zigzag windings appear to much lengthen the route. The 
whole distance from John Hills to Websters was cut and 
levelled for |1130 ; at a time that a J dollar a pound was 
given for pork and beef. And yet Priestly and other owners 
of lands refused giving J. H. more than one thousand dol- 
lars, because J. H. supposed before he began that that sum 
would be sufficient. Thus has J. H. not only given a years 
time in planning and overseeing the men, gratis, but has 
paid $130 cash out of his own pocket. 

Mr, "Webster is the most intelligent man for the advan- 
tages he has had, of almost any one I have ever met with. 
He, a brother and sister, when children, were surprised by 
a party of Indians. The brother was shot, his sister and he 
lived with the Indians some years ; he could not prevail on 
his sister to leave them ; and go without her he would not. 
He therefore laid a plan with some Indian traders to take 
the sister off; but such was the force of habit, that she as 
much disliked going back to the settlements, as she at first 
did to leave them ; and when her brother and his two com- 
rades were busy in crossing a lake she absolutely jumped 



198 A Journey on Horsebaoh in 1799. 

out of the canoe, and made for the banks in hopes of get- 
ting back, but was prevented. She had nearly forgot the 
English language. This is no uncommon case. Few chil- 
dren, like them, taken young, and confined with them two 
or three years, without any chance of getting away, but will 
after that time become so attached to their new habits, as to 
not wish to leave them off and return to their own relations ; 
though they have nothing to prevent them from returning 
but their attachment to their present mode of living. And 
even people of maturer age often have been known to act 
like these children. It is strange what habit will do, and no 
one can say what it will not do. 

From Mr. "Websters four miles to squire Robb's, through 
a country not yet settled ; but the land being tolerably good, 
it is capable at some future day of maintaining a many in- 
habitants. Mrs. Eobb is a motherly old woman and was 
very tender over plastering my sunburnt legs with sour 
cream. I could not have supposed it possible for sunburns 
to be so bad. 

Monday July 15. — My legs are much better but I shall 
lose the outside skin of each calf. To Muncy — [here the 
diary suddenly ends].